Thursday, November 3, 2011

Where Are the Religions in Fiction?

I suspect I'm going to get in trouble for this one, but here goes.

a set of beliefs about reality
note: by this definition, atheism is a religion.

Where is the religion in fiction? I don't mean in the big "This culture against that culture" sense. I mean in the personal, "This is what I believe" sense.

It's my experience in reading that most characters are practically agnostic. Whatever they believe doesn't affect their day-to-day lives or interactions with people, unless it's a specific religious genre.

I'm a devout Christian. To consider devout Christians either conservative hatemongers or nice PC folks—which is what I usually see in fiction—is a false dichotomy. One I weary of seeing.

But then, I'm also weary of seeing "devout" folks of a particular religion do things that are actually counter to that religion's doctrine. A Jew who doesn't think about breaking kosher laws when he eats a cheeseburger or rare steak. Someone whose religion says "Do not kill" but readily kills the bad guys without a twinge of conscience. A Christian who readily jumps into bed without being married to them, without acknowledging how that jives with "You shall not commit adultery."

I'm not saying there aren't people who consider themselves devout and act like that.

But where are the people who actually are orthodox, who follow the core doctrines of their faith?

It's possible to hold views that aren't PC, to be willing to bring them up, and to not feel obligated to jam them down others' throats. For example, someone could think homosexuality "unnatural" for procreative reasons while 1. not hating homosexuals, and 2. not jabbering on about their view. (Note: I did call that an example.)

I realize that it's difficult to write accurately on a religion you don't share, never mind to write from the perspective of someone with a religion you don't share.

But authors often write from the perspective of characters with different genders and cultures than themselves. Why not include religion in that?

Religion adds realism—and conflict potential. (How'd you know I was going to say that?)

Maybe your character faces a situation that tests what they believe and makes them evaluate which values take precedence over others. Someone who believes killing and lying to be both bad will have trouble figuring out what to do when in a situation that offers an apparent either/or choice.

Maybe the hero and heroine of your romance novel have different faiths—or different interpretations of the same faith.

Maybe your MC's being targeted by a killer because something they do for their faith makes the killer think they're actually of a different religion.

Possibilities, people. Just think of the possibilities on that personal level!

I know I had fun playing with them in Destiny's Kiss. It's also one of the reasons I enjoy Richelle Mead's Bloodlines—the poor narrator's stuck in a situation that makes her reevaluate what she believes.

What's your favorite example of personal religious conflict in a story? Have you written anything that involves attacks of conscience?


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